2023 Honda Pilot First Drive: Boxy, Rugged, and … Actually Kinda Cool? (2023)

| First Drives

Honda’s three-row family SUV gets edgier styling, a more-capable TrailSport model, and myriad improvements inside.

Miguel CortinaWriterManufacturerPhotographer

honda pilot Full Overview

The new fourth-generation 2023 Honda Pilot certainly looks the part of a rugged SUV, marking a return of sorts to the boxy, go-anywhere style of the first Pilots to reach our shores. Not that the outgoing model was ugly, mind you, but when the Kia Telluride hit the scene, the three-row SUV market was effectively turned upside down. Families suddenly wanted something hipper, cooler, edgier.

According to Honda, the latest Pilot also has some increased capability to go along with its tougher, new-look duds, thanks in part to a TrailSport model fitted with enough hardware to get after it a bit when the going gets dirty. In an effort to find out how much the new 2023 Pilot lives up to the hype, we headed to the picturesque valleys of Sedona, Arizona, where we got a chance to be among the first to drive the new Pilot on- and off-road.

More Interior Space

The changes to the 2023 Pilot's cabin are as significant as if not more important than the updates to its exterior. A new horizontal design theme lends it a roomier look, one augmented by numerous storage spaces, including a huge center console stowage bin and the return of a tray above the glove box, which gives front passengers a handy place to stash some of their belongings. As was the case with the previous Pilot, the shifter remains a push-button style, which continues to allow for an airy center console, but the new model benefits from a deeper center storage area with a wider, more trucklike feel to it and room for two full-size phones.

Thanks to the Pilot's wheelbase expanding by 2.8 inches (overall length is increased by 3.4 inches, height by as much as 0.8 inch), the interior is more spacious than before. (Honda bills it as class-leading.) As a result, the second row offers plenty of head- and legroom for adults of any size (2.4 inches more legroom than before), and although the third row remains cozy for three adults, it offers decent legroom for those up to 6 feet tall (0.6 inch more legroom). Ingress and egress are easy—press and briefly hold a button on the second row, and the seats will slide forward to leave plenty of room to enter or exit. And as with the previous Pilot, there's a button on the back side of the seat's shoulder or on the side, so if you're seated on the third row, you don't need someone to bail you out.

Adding to the third row's usability, the 2023 Pilot finally gets two USB ports on EX-L and above trims, for a total of six in all, a number that still lags behind some competitors. The number of cupholders has been reduced from 16 to 14, but the ones that remain have been redesigned; eight of them can support up to 32-ounce jugs. The cargo area is also roomier than ever (114.3 cubic feet behind the first row, up to 60.1 cubic feet behind the second, and 22.4 cubic feet behind the third), and a deep underfloor storage area provides Pilot Touring and Elite models a segment-first ability to stow the second row's middle seat instead of leaving it in the garage. (TailSports don't get this feature and instead get a full-size spare tire located underneath.)

On the tech front, LX and Sport models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen, while EX-L, Touring, TrailSport, and Elite models get a 9.0-inch display. Those with the bigger screen come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but those with the small display need to use a cord. Honda says the infotainment system has been redesigned in an effort to simplify the menus, but we'll defer our full judgment on it until we get to spend more time with it. We were somewhat disappointed with the small screen; a 7.0-inch display is tiny nowadays. Even the 9.0-inch screen is on the small side comparatively speaking, as the Ford Explorer, Telluride, and Hyundai Palisade all come with bigger screens.

On the Road and Trail

Underpinning the 2023 Honda Pilot is the automaker's light truck crossover platform, which is shared with models such as the Acura MDX. What Honda is billing as a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine making 285 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque replaces the outgoing mill with the same displacement. Power is up a modest 5 hp, but the biggest improvement is the new 10-speed automatic, which replaces what we found to be a sluggish nine-speed transmission. The new powertrain is smoother and more polished than before—throttle inputs are more pleasant and easier to modulate, and shifts are slicker and less abrupt. The outgoing model felt like it was too eager when you pressed the gas; the new Pilot's acceleration is more mellow and civilized.

After driving a 2022 and a 2023 Pilot back to back, we can say the steering is softer in the new model. Although it's still precise and well-balanced, don't expect a lot of feedback. During our drive around Sedona's highways, we were impressed with how quiet the Elite model is and found its ride settled and pleasant. It was a bit of a different story driving the TrailSport, which was noisier and bouncier; it also exhibited more body roll than the Elite we drove—it's a sacrifice customers will make if they opt for the TrailSport.

On the traction front, the 2023 Pilot's updated torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system delivers 40 percent more torque at launch and is 30 percent quicker than before, according to Honda. For better off-road performance, the system can send up to 70 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels, and 100 percent of that torque can be apportioned to either the right or left wheel when traction demands it.

We headed to Broken Arrow trail to put these new improvements to test in the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport, which also gets beefier all-terrain tires, a 1.0-inch suspension lift (up from a 0.5-inch lift in the 2022 TrailSport model), and high-strength steel skidplates—a big improvement over the outgoing TrailSport. With Trail mode engaged (a new mode for the Pilot) we started our ascent, climbing over the slick red rocks that define Sedona's landscape. Easy throttle inputs allowed us to get over the obstacles slowly and smoothly, with the all-wheel-drive system allowing some wheelspin while sending traction to the other wheels. When Trail mode is engaged, the front camera is automatically displayed on the infotainment screen, giving the driver a clear view of any major obstacles. A camera button on the side of the wiper stalk can switch to a side view, which was handy when the trail narrowed.

The new skidplates came in handy a few times, protecting the powertrain and gas tank from any damage, and the Continental TerrainContact all-terrain tires offered good grip during our adventure—we didn't have to lower their pressure when going off-road. Although most TrailSport buyers won't do this kind of off-roading, they'll be pleased to know their crossover is equipped to tackle family camping trips and some light overlanding when called upon.

Safety

The outgoing Pilot was already considered a safe SUV, but Honda made structural improvements to the 2023 model, targeting Top Safety Pick+ ratings from IIHS and five-star marks from NHTSA. Honda Sensing, the automaker's safety suite, has been updated and now includes a traffic jam assist feature, traffic sign recognition, and low-speed braking control. Honda Sensing is standard on every 2023 Pilot, though some features are reserved for trims EX-L and above.

How Much Is the New Honda Pilot?

The 2023 Honda Pilot starts at $37,295 for the base LX FWD trim and ladders all the way up to $53,375 to start for the top-of-the-line Elite trim. In a surprising move, the base 2023 model is actually cheaper than its outgoing 2022 Pilot counterpart, though top trims see about a $3,000 price hike. Regardless of trim level, the new Pilot continues to be a solid value for larger families, and thanks to the myriad improvements Honda has made to it (not to mention the TrailSport model, which offers more capability for camping trips and outdoor adventures), it not only looks cooler inside and out, but it's also more versatile and capable than ever.

Looks good! More details?
2023 Honda Pilot Specifications
BASE PRICE$37,295-$39,395
LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD/AWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE3.5L/285-hp/262-lb-ft direct-injected DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION10-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT4,000-4,200 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE113.8 in
L x W x H199.9 x 78.5x 71.0-72.0 in
0-60 MPH7.0-8.5 sec (MT est)
EPA FUEL ECON18-19/23-27/20-22 mpg (est)
EPA RANGE (COMB)450 miles (MT est)
ON SALECurrently

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